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Emotions high as New York rent control deadline nears

Apartments

June 15, 1997
Web posted at: 10:39 p.m. EDT (0239 GMT)

(CNN) -- With New York's rent control laws set to expire at midnight Sunday, lawmakers negotiated feverishly to save a system that allows millions of New Yorkers to enjoy below-market rents.

The 50-year-old regulations, which cap rent increases on 1.2 million apartments, primarily in New York City, will terminate unless state lawmakers agree on a plan to save them. Some 2.5 million people live in the affected apartments.

Republican lawmakers want a watered-down version of the existing rules. Democrats want to keep the same laws.


New Yorkers protest rent decontrol
VXtreme streaming video

Emotional fight

It's an emotional fight that has played out elsewhere. Since 1994 rent laws in several states -- including Massachusetts and California -- have been weakened or eliminated. In 32 other states, where there have been no regulations for some time, lawmakers have passed bills to prohibit cities from adopting new laws on their own.

Sign

New York's Republican lawmakers, led by Gov. George Pataki, advocate rent decontrol for apartments once tenants move or die, a policy known as vacancy decontrol. They also want to lower income limits from $250,000.

Rent control opponents argue the laws are unfair to landlords and reduce incentives to maintain buildings or construct new residential housing. And because rent control apartments are rarely vacated, rent control contributes to the city's sky-high rents for apartments that are not covered by the statutes, Republicans have argued.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon, a Manhattan Democrat and chief defender of the rent laws, says that without the rules the city would be to expensive for many middle and lower income residents. As a result, many renters would be left homeless.

Longtime Queens resident Ann Coin is worried. Retired and living on a fixed income, she pays $420 a month for her apartment.

"We're told seniors are safe, but a group of us here don't know for sure how long and the question is, 'where do you go if you have to leave here?'" Coin asked.

Limited immediate impact

Expiration of the laws would have limited immediate impact. A few thousand people in New York City hotels, the suburbs, Albany and Buffalo could face higher rents or eviction notices by August 1.

But the bulk of the tenants are protected until their leases run out. Because of legal lease-renewal requirements, most would face no rent hikes or eviction notices until at least mid-October.

Balconies

As the clock ticked down, tenant activists gathered for a candlelight vigil at Pataki's office in New York City. Another 400 protesters traveled to Albany.

New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who wants to keep rent laws the same, has established special telephone hot lines to advise tenants.

"The best I can assure them is that nobody is going to be thrown out of their apartment," Giuliani said. "I can't assure them what is going to happen in Albany."

Carly Simon's cheap rent

Under the rent regulated system, one well-heeled tenant in Manhattan's Upper West Side pays about $900 a month for seven rooms with crystal chandeliers and a million-dollar view of Central Park.

The building is also home to singer Carly Simon, who was paying just over $3,000 a month for 11 rooms until her apartment was deregulated last year under a law that removes protections for the wealthiest tenants. It could fetch as much as $15,000 a month on today's open market, the building manager said.

"One of the tragedies about this entire situation has been both the polarization of landlords and tenants when they don't have to be that way," rent law expert Michael Schill said.

"They both have an interest in deregulation. They both have an interest in reforming the tax system to make it more affordable for landlords. And the tenants have an interest in the landlords able to provide them with decent quality housing."

Correspondent Cynthia Tornquist and the Associated Press contributed to this report.  
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